When is the last time you were out with friends and someone said: “I have a great idea. Let’s go to this new ice cream store. They have the best vanilla”. That conversation has never taken place, even if someone loves vanilla. Vanilla doesn’t stand out. It isn’t a destination. It’s a fine flavor, but it’s just there. It’s common. Personalities must take a stand to build a brand.

Programmers work endlessly to be the best they can be. We tighten the format, tweak the clocks, and tune the music to eliminate irritants. Those changes are good things but most of the time, we’re just building a creamier vanilla.

Take a Stand To Build a Brand

In the movie Late Night, TV talk host Katherine Newbury, played by Emma Thompson, faced declining ratings. Her office is lined with Emmy Awards, but she has refused to compromise her standards (as she sees it).

She was performing the same show for 30 years. The president of the network (Amy Ryan) wants to replace Katherine with a Dane-Cook-type (Ike Barinholtz), whose “provocative” routines might give the show juice.

Here’s the trailer:

Without giving away the storyline, Thompson’s character discovers how to perform her comedy with a perspective by revealing her personality in an authentic way. Only when she takes a stand does the audience react.

Radio Personalities Must Take a Stand

Radio stations can’t afford to just be good. Or even great radio stations. Nobody talks about how great you sound. They don’t tell their friends about a new jingle package or the $1,000 Text to Win contest. Audiences are immune incremental improvements that make us sound better, but not special. They crave someone that speaks to them, connects with them, and makes them care.

That’s hard for broadcasters because it’s risky. it may cause complaints. A few may even speak out on social media! This paralyzes some broadcasters because nobody likes getting an email, text, or phone call from an angry listener. That voice is loud!

I work with a Program Director in a major market that just hired a new show. In the first week, we’ve received a dozen or so complaints. And the PD is freaking out to the point of wondering if we made a mistake. He actually asked if we should cut our losses and consider a change. After just a week!

Response is a good thing. Non-response is not. Haters can be good for your brand. The Yankees are the most loved sports franchise in the world. Or maybe it’s the Patriots now. Or maybe the New Zealand All Blacks. Regardless, each team has a legion of those who despise the team. Great brands inspire passion.

The Alternative

Weak broadcasters worry about losing listeners rather than aggressively building a fan base that can propel their future. It’s short-sighted. And it’s going to kill our industry.

Trying to avoid complaints leaves personalities in the Zone of Mediocrity. There will be no complaints, but there won’t be passionate fans, either. After all, nobody really hates the Milwaukee Brewers. They’re a nice team. But it’s rare to hear someone planning a road trip to see them.

Radio’s future depends on high profile personalities that inspire communities of fans. That takes courage and leadership.

Emma Thompson’s Epiphany

In Late Night, Thompson’s character is at the center of a controversy, layered with complexity. She makes a decision to take a stand and she does it without losing her sense of humor. It’s bold. This was the turning point in her return to prominence.

In some of the smartest scenes, the show examines why jokes work, what makes content go viral, and the subtleties of comedy. But it revolves around a personality that reveals her heart. Watch this interview with Thompson and Stephen Colbert. If you’re in a hurry, pick it up from about 7:30 as Thompson tells Colbert about the scene where Thompson realizes she needs to change.

Don’t you love that line:

You have one critically important weapon, and that is laughter. Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.

Especially when it’s delivered by personalities that know who they are and what they’re for.


If it’s been awhile since you’ve overheard a conversation about your show, do something about it. Polishing the show isn’t going to cause listeners to suddenly get excited. You must do something remarkable.

The Tracy Johnson Media Group can help with that.

Why be vanilla, when you can be Rocky Road? Take a stand and do it with a sense of humor. Your audience will love you for it.

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